Maag: Not ready for prime time

The Madison County Record Dec. 26, 2004, 6:26am

Now we really know.

Gordon Maag didn’t have what it takes to sit on the Illinois Supreme Court.

Reading Maag’s $110 million defamation lawsuit against his campaign detractors, it becomes crystal clear that the now former judge wasn’t cut out for the political frying pan.

The candidates may smile and look pretty on the outside, but high-level, big-stakes elective politics is a brutal game for roughnecks with thick skin. The flak comes fast and furious, fair and unfair.

Only those unflappably certain of who they are prove successful in the end. Self-conscious, sensitive types need not apply.

Suffice to say that the Illinois Supreme Court isn’t for men who easily get their feelings hurt.

In this case, Judge Maag is bent out of shape because a few sworn political enemies accused him of being “soft on crime.” He says that because of their words “he has lost, and will continue to lose, large sums of money.”

It’s always about the green, isn’t it?

Lost on Maag is that the "public hatred, ridicule and contempt" he laments in his lawsuit would come as a badge of honor to those choosing to serve for other people and not just a taxpayer-funded paycheck.

Public life and pursuit of it is not supposed to be comfortable and fun. Rather, it is difficult, demanding, and often thankless.

If he couldn't take the campaign, how would Maag have held up against real criticism when it really counted, while serving on Illinois’ highest court?

Having the final word in sometimes life-or-death situations is not for the week-kneed or wobbly.

This whole episode helps us confront a cold, hard fact most don’t want to admit: brutal, mudslinging elections serve an essential purpose in representative democracies like ours.

Voters can see which ambitious candidates will become truly strong leaders by watching how they perform under fierce campaign fire.

Will they bend or waver at the first hint of public dissent or heavy criticism?

Are they firmly committed to the principles upon which they ran for office? Or are those principles subject to change at the drop of a mean newspaper editorial or angry powerbroker phone call?

For Madison County’s powerbrokers, Maag was their kind of judge. Now it’s clear why.

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